Identity Politics (Anderson)

 Here’s a helpful book about what it means to find your identity in Christ: Identity Theft edited by Melissa Kruger.  It is specifically aimed at women, but I’ve found it helpful as a resource for my sermons on image and identity.  There are ten chapters on biblical topics that have to do with the Christian’s identity, including freedom in Christ, being a child of God, being redeemed, reflecting God’s image, and so forth.

The second chapter, written by Hannah Anderson, is a short explanation of what it means to find identity in being image bearers – made in the image of God.  At one point Anderson talks about today’s “identity politics.”  This is a phrase used to describe a person’s tendency to find identity in social categories:

This term is not limited to government or policy debates but speaks more broadly to how we center our sense of self on one particular attribute of our identity and then define everything else by it.

To be fair, categories themselves are not wrong.  We use the categories of occupation, relationships, family, and biography to communicate how we spend our days and the work we have been called to on this earth.  The problem comes when we ask these categories to do more than they can do – when we ask them to hold all that we are. After all, if we try to stuff complicated, diverse, fully formed living beings into small, inanimate categories, we shouldn’t be surprised when they feel tight and cramped and begin to suffocate us.

Worse still, when we define ourselves with limited categories, any shift in those categories can destabilize our sense of self. What happens to us when life doesn’t play out in the way we expected – when a marriage ends or never happens in the first place? What happens to us when we’re laid off or fail in the marketplace? What happens to us when motherhood doesn’t come easily?

If we invested our sense of self in something small, temporal, and unstable, we will become small, temporal, and unstable people. When they collapse or come to a natural end (as even good things do), we enter a crisis of identity. For without them, how will we know our sense of purpose, calling, and direction? Life will become meaningless and empty.

Anderson goes on to explain the stability of one’s identity when found in the Lord:

The truth about our core identity is so much richer, more glorious, and more soul satisfying than any category or role we could conceive for ourselves.  God…calls us to find ourselves in something more than earthly categories. He calls us to find our identity in Him.  (Being made in the image of God [Gen. 1:27] means that) our deepest sense of self must be found in God. Not in categories, not in roles, not in successes or failure. In him.  …Because by making us in his image, God did more than simply confirm value on our lives; he also instilled in us a deep sense of purpose and calling.  As image bearers of God, we too are called to show forth the glory, power, and might our king. Our deepest sense of purpose and identity is so bound up in this calling that everything about our lives – from the work we do, to the people we love, to the place we live – all somehow connect back to him.

Hannah Anderson, “Reflection: Made in God’s Image” in Identity Theft, edited by Melissa Kruger.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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The Limits of Science Concerning Human Nature (Moreland/Rae)

 Since I’m doing a sermon series on image and identity, I picked up Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey.  I’ve mentioned it here several times in the past month or two.  I also recently picked up Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics by J. P. Moreland and Scott Rae.  Body and Soul is a biblical and philosophical study of the human body and the human soul: what they are and how they relate.  It’s a rather difficult read, to be honest, since it is a philosophical look at these topics.  I’m learning some new things such as metaphysical distinctions relevant to anthropology, degreed and nondegreed property, mereology, and so on.

The main thesis of the book is that, in the authors’ view, human persons are not property-things, but substances.  They back up their thesis with Scripture and with logical arguments from philosophy.  The last three chapters are application chapters where the authors discuss beginning of life ethics and end of life ethics based on their biblical and philosophical view that humans are substances, not property-things.

One part I appreciated was where they discussed science’s input on human persons:

In our view, when it comes to addressing the nature of human persons, science is largely incompetent either to frame the correct questions or to provide answers.  The hard sciences are at their best when they describe how physical systems work, but they are largely incompetent when settling questions about the nature of consciousness, intentionality, personal identity and agency, and related matters. Recently, philosopher and scientific naturalist John Searle have argued that 15 years of focused on philosophy of mind, artificial intelligence and cognitive psychological models of consciousness have been a waste of time in a number of ways…

… We do not agree with everything Searle says here, but he is correct in claiming that various disciplines studying the nature of human persons have been mired in chaos and confusion for at least a half a century. In our view, the reason for this chaos has been the assumption that science is the best way to approach the relevant questions.

The authors go on to give some assertions that are very difficult, if not impossible, for hard sciences to explain (e.g. mental states, the human soul, thoughts, etc.).  I agree with Moreland and Rae in that science can do much to help our understanding of humans, but science has its limits.  Thankfully we have God’s Word, which not only tells us about him, it also tells us about ourselves, humans, made in the image of God, body and soul, male and female.  And Scripture gives us a teleological outlook: the chief end of man is to glorify and enjoy God forever!

The above quote is found on pages 41-42 of Moreland and Rae, Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Following in Eve’s Relativist Footsteps (Hatton)

 I’ve been studying up on image and identity in preparation for a sermon series on these topics.  Since our culture has a pragmatic feelings-based view of image and identity, I thought it would be good to talk about what Scripture says about these things.  One book I’m reading is called Face Time by Kristen Hatten.  It is a book aimed more at young women – specifically teens who are struggling with who they are.  But Hatten’s insights are helpful for any Christian thinking about their image and identity as followers of Jesus.  The book has two main parts: 1) Your True Identity, and 2) Facing False Identities. It’s not a long book (130 pages), and it’s not difficult to read, but it is full of Christian wisdom on image and identity.

Here’s one section about Eve’s sin that I highlighted and underlined:

…Adam and Eve had no reason to doubt God’s love, loyalty, and promise to bless them.  He literally had just given them the world!  This is why their response [to Satan’s temptation] is so astonishing.  Instead of responding in shock to Satan’s attack on God’s authority, word, and character, the words of the serpent opened Eve’s eyes to a new version of reality.  At that moment, what Eve perceived to be true held more weight than the truth and authority of God’s word and all that he had done for them and given them.  The once-forbidden tree she now aw as good and she defiantly ate from it.

We might say that Eve is the first relativist; she sees herself as the ultimate judge of reality and truth.  She may be the first relativist, but she’s certainly not the last.  Don’t we often do the same thing?  We decide what’s true based on what we think, not on what God’s Word says to be true.  Even if what we see is nothing more than a filtered Instagram picture, it can carry more weight in determining how we view ourselves than what God says about who we are.

Again, teenage girls aren’t the only ones who are relativists like Eve!  All of us think like this from time to time and we all need this helpful reminder to trust God’s Word and his gospel more than our perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.

Kristen Hatton, Face Time, Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2017, p.16-17.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Abortion and Dehumanization (Pearcey)

 I’m very much enjoying Nancy Pearcey’s new book, Love Thy Body.  I’ll come back to it again later, but for now I wanted to share an insightful observation of Pearcey’s in the first chapter:

If you favor abortion, you are implicitly saying that in the early stages of life, an unborn baby has so little value that it can be killed for any reason – or no reason – without any moral consequence. Whatever your feelings, that is a very low view of life. Then, by sheer logic, you must say that at some later time the baby becomes a person, at which point it requires such high value that killing it would be a crime.

The implication is that as long as the pre-born child is deemed to be human but not a person, it is just a disposable piece of matter – a natural resource like timber or corn. It can be used for research and experiments, tinkered with genetically, harvested for organs, and then disposed of with the other medical waste.

The assumption at the heart of abortion, then, is personhood theory, with its two tiered view of the human being – one that sees no value in a living human body but places all our worth in the mind or consciousness.

Personhood thus presumes a very low view of the human body, which ultimately dehumanizes all of us. For if our bodies do not have inherent value, then a key part of our identity is devalued. What we will discover is that this same body/person dichotomy, with its denigration of the body, is the unspoken assumption driving secular views on euthanasia, sexuality, homosexuality, transgenderism, and a host of related ethical issues.

Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body, p. 20.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Naming our Struggles (Murray)

 Quite often we as Christians know the various sins against which we struggle.  We might be strong in some areas, but are weak in others.  For example, a person might not have a violent or quick temper, but he does struggle with discontentment and envy.  A Christian might have real and genuine loves for others, but she has a hard time being a good steward of her money.  The list goes on.  Usually as we mature in the faith, we start to see our strengths and weaknesses.  The Lord, through Scripture, helps us see our failures so we can repent of them and ask for grace to “put off” what is sinful and “put on” what is good.  However, sometimes we can’t always name our weaknesses, we don’t know what to call them, or they haven’t been pointed out to us yet.  In Refresh, the authors list some of the main areas of stumbling for women – though I’d add these are areas of stumbling for men as well:

Idolatry.  We make idols of beauty, fashion, career, husband, or children – especially their success in school and sports.

Materialism.  Our pursuit of money or bigger and better homes often results in working more hours or jobs than we can handle and also nourishes the womb of discontent that gnaws away at our minds and hearts.

Debt.  One of the greatest causes of stress is living beyond our means.  Maybe we don’t spend 50 percent more than we can afford, but 10 percent, year on year, grows our debt and our anxiety levels.

Comparison.  Pinterest, Facebook, and mommy blogs can lead us to compare ourselves unfavorably with others who seem better looking, better homemakers, better organizers, and better everything.

Indiscipline.  Although it’s hard to be disciplined and organized, it’s more stressful to be the opposite, which so easily occurs as we use technology.  How many hours are wasted on the internet, resulting not only in guilt over wasted time but a pileup of other duties that now have to be rushed.

Identity.  We define who we are by our successes, our failures, or some part of our past, instead of who we are in Christ.

Media diet.  Just as what we put in our mouths affects our emotions, thoughts, and hearts so what we put in our ears and eyes has emotional, intellectual, and spiritual consequences.  Many live as if Philippians 5:8 said, ‘Whatever things are false, whatever things are sordid, whatever things are wrong, whatever things are filthy, whatever things are ugly, whatever things are terrible, if there is any vice, if there is anything worthy of criticism, meditate on these things.’

Perfectionism.  We strive for flawless family, house, meals, and appearance.

Failure.  We fail at school, or at a job, or at homemaking, or in witnessing, or we fail to meet our own or others’ expectations.

Later in this helpful book the authors talk more about dealing with these dangers and sins in light of God’s grace and his word.  It’s good to know our sins and weaknesses so we can, by God’s grace, fight them.  We don’t want to wallow in weakness, we want to press on obediently in the strength of the Lord!

NOTE: I edited the list for length; you can find it in its entirety on pages 46-48 of Refresh by David and Shona Murray.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Idols, Significance, and Security

 If you’re looking for a helpful biblical resource on idolatry, I very much recommend Richard Lints’ Identity and Idolatry.  I’ve read a few other good resources on idolatry, but in my view, this one is the best.  In this book, Lints talks about the various angles of idolatry, including image, identity, worship, purpose, significance, and security.  Speaking of significance and security, here’s an excerpt I appreciated:

At the heart of worship is a sense of ‘giving yourself away’ to another.  Key to worship then are the questions ‘To whom are you giving yourself away and in what manner are you giving yourself?’ Genuine worship is giving yourself to the living God in whom and for whom you ave been created.  Idolatry by contrast is substituting the true object of worship (God) for an imitation (idol) and reorienting the relationship from worship to possession.  One who worships the living God does not possess him for one’s own purposes.  But those who create an idol seek to possess it for their own purpose….

An idol is desired as a means to an end, and the end is significance and security on the individual’s own terms.  Since significance and security cannot be fulfilled by the idol, the idol creates a deeper longing for significance and security for that which it cannot provide.  This results in a chasing after the idol, driven by the conviction that eventually the idol will somehow provide the promised significance and security.  The cycle repeats itself.  Longing provides the opportunity to chase, and chasing creates a deeper longing.  Effectively the idol possesses the one who fashioned it.  The yearning for significance and security that initiated the dynamic of idolatry has in fact led to a deeper dissatisfaction and a greater frustration – a dissatisfaction and frustration caused by the inability of the idol to fulfil that which it appeared to promise.

That’s worth reading again – and it helps us as God’s people fight against the idols in our own hearts and lives.

Richard Lints, Identity and Idolatry, p. 156-7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

“Who Am I” by J. Bridges: A Review

Who Am I?: Identity in Christ If you are a follower of Jesus, what answers would you give to this question: “Who am I?”  There are some that might first come to mind, such as “a child of God,” or “a Christian,” or maybe, “A disciple.”  Or, perhaps on those bad days in life we might answer, “I don’t know!” or “I’m not really sure.”  Since we still struggle with sin, sometimes Christians have deep questions about their identity.  Wise counsel and help answering this question is needed!

Jerry Bridges wrote a little booklet to help God’s people answer this very important question: “Who am I?”  In under 100 pages, Bridges gives Christians some biblical insight to consider when they ask questions about their identity.  As with Bridges’ other books, this one is clear, straightforward, easy to understand, gospel centered, and full of biblical truth.

There are eight chapters; each gives a biblical answer to the question, “Who am I?”  I don’t want to give away all Bridges’ answers here because I want our readers to think about answering that question themselves.  For a few examples, however, Bridges talks about justification, adoption, and being a servant of Christ.  I have to admit that the contents weren’t necessarily groundbreaking for me, but I was edified by he way he took Christian truth and applied it to the identity question.  This book did give me a fuller answer to the question at hand.

Who Am I isn’t meant to be a doctoral dissertation on identity, but it is a great introduction to the topic.  I’m also glad to see it is brief, since (I’m guessing) people who are deeply struggling with this question and possibly battling depression (for example) might not have the energy to read through a longer book. Also, this is a good book to give to newer Christians, or Christians who are unable to read longer and deeper theological books.  In fact, I’d give this to a high school student who is wrestling with identity; I’d also give it to an older person who has questions about identity.  Bridges does a fine job of making the subject readable and he constantly focuses the readers on Christ’s work and God’s grace throughout the book.

I do wish there were some application questions at the end of each chapter, since this book might be a good one to read and discuss in a group (or one-on-one) over the course of eight weeks.  However, if you’re leading the group it wouldn’t be tough to write your own sets of discussion questions.  Bottom line: If you’ve been looking for a book like this, or if you’ve not read one like it before, I recommend it!

Jerry Bridges, Who Am I? (n.l. Cruciform Press, 2012).

shane lemsr
hammond, wi